As mentioned before, traveling in Brazil means first and foremost, to enjoy driving. This trip was no different from the ones before with the exception that the distance covered in two weeks was even longer: almost 6000 km.
From Maceio, we went inland up to São Luiz and then back all along the coast. Besides long strands of straight road, the most interesting was often the company we
had were trying to avoid: Suicidal donkeys, cows, horses, chicken, goats, dogs running on or over the street.
Of course, we could have stayed on the national highways to minimize the risk of driving into animals. Still, these fellows were more agreeable than the trucks whose drivers have often their very own approach to road safety.
Having said this, it was absolutely worth it. The land out there, o Sertão, is very different from the coast: dry, harsh and beautiful at once.
It’s not easy for people to make a living out there, the poor red soil, the lack of rain, the hard work. Driving through does hardly give a sound impression of how it really feels to life there. Still, I found it worth-while to see this other part of Brazil, this part that is not on the post cards and not in the travel guides. Because, after all, it is there.
One of the things I really like about staying in a youth hostel is that you get to meet other people as by default. Somehow the common places – the kitchen, the living and TV room – are destinated for people to become momentary fellows.
In Lima, there was the German from Cologne who had taken all his annual holiday to travel through South America. After meeting a Japanese girl on the road, he was busy changing his plans so they could travel together longer.
There was the Canadian, originally from Salvador, who was on his way up to one of the gold mines, working as a safety instructor. Or the Australian girl on her first big trip abroad, alone and without any knowledge of Spanish whatsoever.
There was the very kind cleaning lady who laughed so hard when I spilled water accidentally all over myself. Or the Peruvian family who was between moving houses.
With a few bits of language skills, and sometimes even without (English really goes a long way), it’s amazing how easy it is to get to know people. Not inside out of course. But only getting a glimpse at their lives, their ideas, their problems and their kindness, always leaves me with an impression of gratefulness.
After getting used to the traffic in Maceió, I thought to be well prepared for the rest of South America. Wrong thinking…
Peruvians, or at least the people in Lima add a new dimension to crazy when it comes to driving. There seems to be an unwritten law that drivers have to honk every 20 meters or so. Probably at the risk of a motor failure should they not do so. It is also perfectly normal and frequently practiced to open up a fourth or fifths roadway in a street that was meant for three.
And pedestrians are Freiwild*. Even when having green light, they are expected to give way. Some taxi drivers won’t even look at them when turning into a street but simply assume that pedestrians knows what’s best for them: run!
For the first time ever, there was an ID control on the Thalys travelling from Brussels to Paris. As I am not registered in Germany any longer, I can’t have my German ID card extended neither get a new one. All I got is the German passport and my Belgian ID.
Only, as I kind of knew and got lectured about by the Belgian police in the train, this Belgian ID is not more than a residency card for non Belgians. It is not a valid ID proof outside of Belgium.Or so I have been told.
What I don’t understand is why I got on a plane with this card three times this year: to Vienna, to Ljubljana, to Berlin and back. Honestly, I did not even have my passport with me these three times. And what is the point of the Schengen zone and me being fully registered in Belgian, paying taxes and all the etcs included, if I can’t even travel with the only official document I got?
- Better speak some French: Actually, in Provence; it is possible to travel well and have a good time without speaking French. Maybe it’s because tourism is a big source of income. Still, the moment the online booking didn’t come through and you risk finding yourself without a place to stay and arguing with the hotel staff; it comes in quite handy.
- As of the third day – and of the third city – it’s getting difficult to tell the places apart. Never mind weekdays…
- Getting into a city later than 20:00 is not a good idea. In the small cities in the South, public transport doesn’t run later than this. Unless you enjoy a 30 minutes walk with 15kg luggage at the end of the day.
- I only realised on my way that I was following down le Rhône from Lyon, over Avignon to Arles. Not planned but very pretty!
- Provence smells like a mix of goat cheese, ripe peaches and lavender. Yamee!
- The Deutsche Bahn is finally replacing human announcements about how welcome the travellers are on board – and which most of the time sounded like “I couldn’t care less that you are here but my company obliges me to read this stupid announcement” – by artificially cheerful recorded welcome message.
- When crossing the train bridge over the Rhine to get on the left side of Cologne, there are plenty of padlocks* hanging on the fences – a few hundreds I would say. Does anybody know why?
* Vorhängeschloss, cadenas
I admit: it was my fault. How could I assume that being at the Russian consulate at 9 in the morning and having all papers would be enough?? Somehow, my memory must have been influenced by my experience at the German embassy: walk in with all papers, walk out 30 minutes later, done.
Not so here. First, one has to find the Consulate, then, they have you waiting outside – temperature this morning: 8°, but hey, it wasn’t even raining – letting 1 person at once inside. Only that it takes roughly 10 minutes per person. With 20 people in the queue, some were there as early as 8:00, and closing time at 12:30, hope was going down as well as body temperature.
After one hour, I saw this well hidden ad from an accredited agency doing the same job in a shopping centre nearby. And yes, they did have a well heated waiting room and even chairs. What the ad had not mentioned was that they almost doubled the price for a simple tourist visa. But after one hour in this &*ù$_ç( cold, it was worth it.
Now, I feel really reassured travelling to a country where I don’t speak the language, where the notion of service seems even less developed than in Belgium and where paying more suddenly makes life much easier. I should probably take some additional cash with me…